Halloween seems to have always suffered from a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. On the one hand you have the homemade costumes, pumpkin carving, festive parties and, most important of all, the pillowcase of assorted chocolate stomach aches and candied future cavities that you wouldn’t give up carrying until every house had turned off its lights to signal the tragic end to what seemed like a bottomless bowl of treats.
On the other hand, you have the evening’s dark aftermath of smashed and exploded pumpkins on the streets, the random persistence of screeching bottle rockets, the scattered garbagecan lids that were used as shields in the inevitable Roman candle war, damage to city property committed by the ever-expanding vandal community, and the fear of a razor blade in every candied apple.
While there’s never been a single case of any trick-or-treater being killed by eating sabotaged sweets (so says a researcher by the name of Joel Best at the University of Delaware), the idea of danger is just too much for many parents already too terrified to let their kids walk to school at the best of times.
For many parents who grew up in the 1980s when slasher/horror movies were at their best/worst, it’s tempting to embrace the recent trend of trick-or-treating at the local mall with participating stores. The bright lights and security guards surely foil the plans of the pockmarked and denim jacketed whom a generation ago would have grabbed the bulging sacks of candy, making a run for it in their getaway Datsun 510.
The real spirit of Halloween — the Celtic festival to celebrate the end of harvest — was also celebrated Oct. 31. The date was believed to be when the existential membrane between the living and the dead was at its weakest, which explains the season’s abundance of ghosts and ghouls. Many countries have ancient reasons for celebrating: bobbing for apples has Roman roots, a tradition that honors Pomona, the
Roman goddess of fruits and trees; while carving pumpkins takes a slice from Stingy Jack of Irish folklore who made the mistake of tricking Satan and now wanders the earth with an ember of Hades glowing in a lantern made from a turnip.
The North American version of Halloween takes these different traditions and combines them with The Shaggs’ hallowed opus, “It’s Halloween”.
“It’s time for games, it’s time for fun.”
Fun and games is precisely the inspiration for Vancouver’s first Halloween Parade & Expo this past Sunday. The parade featured the immediately recognizable Transformers, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars characters along with an exuberant smattering of witches, goblins, and that most sociological of Halloween characters, the zombie.
All of the costumes had one thing in common as per the event’s rules — no blood, guts, nor gore.
“This is all about friendly costumes,” said Melanie Bennett, who, dressed as a female version of Iron Man, walked in the downtown parade with Team Transformer. “Halloween seemed more ghetto back in the day when we were growing up… But we’re going to bring it back. We want to have it for the kids of this generation, and have it be fun for them.”
Event organizer Raymond He admits his own Halloween memory isn’t a happy one: while wearing a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper mask and helmet, he was hit in the head from behind while walking down Robson Street on Halloween night 10 years ago. “We want to make Halloween better for the younger generation,” said He. “There’s been too much blood, gore and violence.”